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Night Owls

By Rachel M.J

By Rachel M.JPublished 2 years ago Updated 2 years ago 9 min read
19
Night Owls
Photo by KAUE FONSECA on Unsplash

In the car again.

They say it like I'm going on an adventure.

I haven't seen her in over a year. Her face looks different, but the same. Her dark wavy hair like a halo around her tan skin, and I have a little brother now... He's almost a year old. I file into the car; me, and my stuff that I've accrued. Some things over time, like my stuffed bunny rabbit that I've had since I was a baby, and my pink CD player. Some new, like the glitter gel pens that I spill onto the back seat, so I can draw at traffic lights.

I have an I-pod now - I rest it in the groove of the car door.

I watch the trees hurtle by. You can tell which state you're in from how the trees look. They're round and rustling, with flecks of orange at the tip of the leaves; trees like that mean that I'm home. The trees from my first home were something else.... Tall, with the leaves all bunched at the very top, like a dandelion sky-scraper.

I haven't seen trees like that in a very long time.

There's a portable DVD player propped in front of my brother's booster seat. I think it would be nice if I had my own, but I don't say so. A movie is playing, and his eyes are glued to the screen. I lean over, and watch it too. He laughs. So do I.

The movie loops, and plays again. His eyes are still glued on the screen, as if he's seeing it for the first time. I stretch, and prop my head against the car window. I put my earphones in, and watch the trees as they blur like matchsticks.

The service station reeks of petrol, and Mum comes back with two sausage rolls.

The pastry is soft, and buttery flakes stick to my fingers, falling to the car floor and between the seats as we surge over potholes. My brother's sausage roll sits in ravaged pieces on his lap, and he's fallen asleep with his fingers digging into it. His cheeks are pink. The afternoon sun is sifting through the window, and I notice that my thighs are turning pink, too. I pull a sheet over my legs.

We pull into an old hotel. The neon sign is missing some bulbs, and it flickers on and off - a kind of lemon yellow. There's a hair dryer in the bathroom.

"Can I use it?" I ask Mum.

"As long as you're quick," she says.

~

I can see Mum smile at us from the front seat.

She's humming, gently. Eventually, she starts singing. Her voice is full and resonant, just as it's always been, and I recognise the music. I start signing too, until the sound of wailing becomes too difficult to ignore - it reaches over both of our voices and suddenly the music is off and we have to stop the car.

Mum's hand reaches in to feel my brother's cheeks. They're red and puffy, and even though she's stroking his hair the crying doesn't stop. His tears fall, and fall. He cries for an hour, maybe two... until Mum re-routes to the closest service station.

Her arms are stiff on the wheel.

She rushes inside, and I look my brother over. He's started sputtering - sobbing in bursts - so I offer a hand in an attempt to soothe him - but he swats me away. I put in my earphones, and sketch the skyline with my gel pens.

~

I don't know how much time has passed when I open my eyes. The small pot holes on the desert road make the car rock, softly, and It's lulled my brother to sleep. The post-credits of the movie - that played through a third time - have finished, and the car is quiet. I can hear the bumps in the road; and the sound of the air conditioner pushing air through the vents.

I clear my eyes of sleep, but I can't shake the dizziness roiling behind my eyes. I can see the desert landscape from my window. There are no trees; only sand. It's vast; far and rolling, and it's coloured by the silver light reflecting off the dunes.

The moon is too high.

My skin is too hot.

I hear a creaking, and when I look ahead I see Mum. Her head turns slowly, as if it's shifting on a gear. Her features are sharp and pointed; her nose is curled over like a beak, and her hair is a crown of dark feathers. An owl. I stare back at her, and she cracks a smile. Her teeth are white in the moonlight; her cheeks round around her grin. I grip the armrest, my stomach flips, "Mum?"

"What?"

Her eyes bore into me - worry flooding her expression like a dam - and her face is soft again... Normal. I exhale, and lean my head against the window, letting the glass cool my skin.

"Nothing," I mutter, and I fall back into a restless sleep.

~

We pull up at a hotel. It's well past midnight, and I'm too tired to lift my blanket as I stroll to the door. I drag it across the asphalt, where it gathers clumps of gravel and bindi-eyes. I hold it tight around me as I slump onto the couch.

"-staying here a while," I hear Mum murmuring, as I fight to stay awake. She's left the light on in the kitchen, and she's ruffling through her overnight bag. I hear my brother's sputtered cries, and the sound of Mum soothing him again. My eyes close.

I reach for my I-pod, but my hand falls to the carpet, heavy. I hear her voice - distant - floating from across the room.

"Ssh... ssh... I got you."

The light dims.

"Ssh..."

When I wake up I'm laying in a bedroom, and the door is ajar. I peak out of it, and I can see the sun from a floor-length window; it's a disc on the horizon, and it's filtering pink light onto the glistening ripples of a swimming pool. "A pool!" I yell, and I run for my bathers. "Mum! Can I go?" I launch into the loungeroom.

She looks at me. She's on the couch, and half asleep.

"Can I go swimming?"

She yawns, "yeah," she says, rubbing at her eyes. "Just make it a quick one."

"Thanks!" I call under my breath, and I slip back into my bedroom. I fish for my bathers, which are at the bottom of my backpack. When I finish dressing, I stare at myself in the mirror. I tug at my shorts, pulling them lower over my thighs. They stick to me... not too tight, but not fitting right. I throw a shirt on over top.

"Bring him in!" I shout giddily as I break the surface, water droplets spraying from my hair. My brother is watching from the side of the pool; he's lounging heavy in Mum's arms.

"No," she says, feeling for his temperature again, "he's a bit warm."

I paddle closer, "won't that help?"

She pads back into the hotel, and comes back with a float jacket. My brother pauses his whimpering long enough to watch with intense fascination as she lowers the jacket over his head. I giggle. He teeters over to the pool, hand in Mums, and plops himself by the shallow. Mum scoops his feet, one at a time, and places them gently into the water. He gapes - babbling like an excited fish - and beats down, sending spray into our eyes. We laugh.

~

"Do you think I can send a letter when we get there?" I ask, my legs bouncing against the sticky leather.

"I don't see why not," she says, as she fumbles with the radio dial.

"I'm going to send one to Isabel, one to Jessica, and maybe one to Rebecca." I list the names on my fingers, and picture which gel pens I'll use for each one. Purple for Isabel, pink for Jessica...

"Who's Rebecca?"

"She's new," I say, picking at my sunburn.

"Ah," Mum nods, "is she your friend?"

"Yes," I say, "she's tall."

She nods again. The ads on the radio are blaring through the speakers, so she turns it down, all the way, and checks on my brother.

I feel his cheek with the back of my hand. Cool. "He's okay," I say.

Blue for Rebecca.

I write the letters in my head.

The rest of the drive is easy from there. We're on the last stretch, and my brother has stopped crying, except for small whimpers when he's hungry or bored. I add the final details to my glitter-pen sketch; I make the sky blue, and the skyline purple, and scatter them both with silver stars.

I sketch the powerlines gold.

I fall asleep with my earphones in. They teeter uncomfortably in the groove of my ear, and fall out when I wake. My brother is watching his movie again; eyes glued to the screen and legs swaying emphatically. I recognise the scene, and I quote it. He laughs, and so do I.

Mum smiles.

I watch the trees streaming past the window. Eventually, they turn to tall grey buildings, lit from the inside and out with fluorescent lights.

"What's in there?" I ask.

"Factories."

I watch the factories turn to houses.

~

The gravel crackles under the tires as we slow and pull into a silent street.

The pavements are narrow, and are shrouded in a patchwork of shadows, cast by the full and round leaves that hang long over fences. The houses are nestled in maroon bricks with flecks of ceramic that catch light from the sun. We pull into one of them. There's a mailbox - number 66.

"Here." Mum turns to face me.

I open the door, and sink my feet - in their glittered sandals - out of the car and onto the hot pavement. I run a hand along the bricks as I walk through the gate, and dig my finger into the ceramic speckles. I’m going to have to get used to the way the leaves reach down and tickle my arms as I walk down the driveway. I lay my hand on the doorknob, and twist.

Here

Excerpt
19

About the Creator

Rachel M.J

Magical realist

I like to write about things behaving how they shouldn't ~

Instagram: Rachel M.J

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